Adventures in Alternative Haircare: No ‘Poo

Welcome to the January 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Experiments in Natural Family Living

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have reported on weeklong trials to make their lives a little greener. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

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I did no ‘poo for five months last year in anticipation of this month’s Carnival of Natural Parenting. I took notes as I went so I could share my experiences with you!

Let’s start off with a few frequently asked questions:

  1. What is no ‘poo? It’s a method of hair cleansing that doesn’t use shampoo. (“No ‘poo” is short for “no shampoo.”) The term “no ‘poo” is a bit of a misnomer because it’s not that you’re not using anything to wash your hair, but rather that you’re using good old fashioned baking soda and vinegar instead. Yep, these common household ingredients used for cooking and cleaning can also be used to cleanse and condition your hair!
  2. Why did you decide to do this? I wanted to try no ‘poo mainly because I liked the idea of not having to wash my hair every day. As a busy mom of a toddler, I don’t like having to wash my hair every day. Also, as my hair has gotten longer, it takes so much time to dry that when I washed every day, my hair was almost always partially wet. The theory with no ‘poo is that after a “transitional period” where your hair adjusts its natural oil production to the less frequent washings, you will not have to wash your hair more than once or twice per week. I also liked the idea of using less chemicals on my body and being less dependent on products that have ingredients that I’m not familiar with. I strive to lead an environmentally-conscious lifestyle, and part of that is being intentional about how my self care products affect my health and my impact on the environment.
  3. How did you do it? I started off the no ‘poo challenge by not washing my hair for four days. I still took showers to wash the rest of my body, but I kept my hair totally dry for the first two days, then did a water-only wash on the third day. After the fourth day without washing, I washed my hair using a baking soda and water mixture, then after I rinsed it thoroughly, I used a mixture of apple cider vinegar (ACV) and water as a conditioning rinse.

Here’s a little more about my experience:

The first day of no ‘poo (July 2011): I have not washed my hair for four days, and it feels and looks very oily. I have fairly oily hair to begin with, and it’s thick and a little bit wavy. After washing, I’m noticing my hair feels very light compared to after washing with traditional shampoo. My hair has no tangles, it’s very soft, and it’s not at all greasy at the end of the day after washing. I didn’t wash for 4 days, then I used baking soda and ACV.

I used no 'poo at the NPN gathering!

Week 2: After the first stretch of not washing for four days and then using no ‘poo, I can already comfortably go without washing my hair every day. I washed every other day using no ‘poo this week, and my hair has been feeling nice!

Week 3: I’m washing every third day with no ‘poo now. I’ve noticed that my hair looks really good most of the time. Even on days when I haven’t washed it, it seems to have more texture and body than it used to. It’s starting to be wavier all of the time (instead of intermittently). I’ve also noticed that my hair dries much faster on no ‘poo days than it ever did when I was using shampoo. It wasn’t uncommon for me to shower in the morning, put my hair in a ponytail, then take it down for bed and have it still be wet. It would even still be slightly damp the next morning, as I stepped into the shower to do it all over again. Now, it takes a couple hours to mostly dry, then it’s a little damp in the middle if I put it up. Also, I’ve noticed that not only is my hair not tangled, but it doesn’t really need to be brushed. I can be wearing it down, and pull it up into a perfectly smooth ponytail with no brushing necessary. I always envied other women who could pull their hair up with no mirror and it would look perfect. Now I can do that!

Week 4: I’ve been going 3-4 days between no ‘poo washes. On days that I shower without washing my hair, I either keep it dry or do a water only wash (while scrubbing my scalp with my fingers) depending on how dirty I feel. I think, in some ways, (at least for me) going no ‘poo is about adjusting your definition of what “clean” feels like. My hair doesn’t feel “clean” in the same way it used to, as in that squeaky feeling of soap. My hair also doesn’t ever feel dry or get frizzy when it’s raining out, and my scalp doesn’t feel itchy after I shower.

Week 6: I bought a boar’s hair brush, and it’s been much easier to make it through 4 days without washing my hair without feeling dirty. Usually by day 3 I start to feel the urge to wash my hair, but this time, I didn’t feel that until the end of day 4. It does seem to disperse the oils throughout my hair so that it doesn’t feel oily.

I’ve also gotten a method down for my shower routine: I keep a plastic cup in my shower to make it easier. Before my shower, I pour 2-3 tablespoons of baking soda in the bottom of the cup, then I take it into the shower. I fill it with water from the shower head, and mix it with my finger (or the handle of my razor) before pouring it on my head. I focus on the scalp when pouring the baking soda, because the ends of my hair don’t feel dirty. I spend a little time scrubbing my scalp, and then I rinse thoroughly. (Some people make a paste in their hand of baking soda and a little bit of water and use that to scrub their scalp with, but I’ve found that this method is too harsh and it leaves my scalp itchy. I also have more rebound oiliness after using less diluted baking soda.) I keep the ACV bottle in the shower so I can repeat the washing process for my conditioning rinse: pour a little ACV in the bottom of the cup, fill the rest with water from the shower head, then pour it over my hair. Then I rinse my hair thoroughly again.

Week 8: Question of the week: Does your hair smell like vinegar? No, not unless I don’t thoroughly rinse out the vinegar after using it. Actually, I’ve noticed that with this method, my hair just smells like me. You know what I mean? I’ve always noticed (and maybe this is because I’m a woman and I have a very good sense of smell) that each person has her own scent (and I’m not talking about sweat or body odor, here). There’s just a scent that comes from the skin and hair, and you can really only smell it well if the person hasn’t covered it up with perfume and scented soaps. Jaymz has told me that I smell really good lately, and I wonder if it’s because I finally gave up on shampoo (even though I was using unscented shampoo before). It’s an interesting thing to think about!

Week 10: A note on no ‘poo for kids: I personally will not be using no ‘poo on Daniel for one reason: when these ingredients get in your eyes, they burn. That’s right, I’m not coordinated enough not to get liquid baking soda and water/vinegar in my eyes every once in a while when I wash, and oh man, does it hurt! I think it stings at least as much as getting soap in my eyes, but it seems to happen more often than when I was shampooing because shampoo and conditioner are fairly viscous, and these mixtures are so liquid, they drip onto my face and into my eyes. So for me, I think shampooing a wiggly baby or toddler with no ‘poo would be totally impractical and potentially painful for them.

Week 12: I’m still washing every 3-4 days with no ‘poo. I think even if you don’t decide to go completely no ‘poo like I have, this hair washing method is good to know about for these instances: for camping, for times when you run out of shampoo and need to wash your hair but don’t want to run out to the store to buy more, for times when you want to save a little money. I believe no ‘poo would work well as a substitute for your everyday method of hair washing, if you don’t want to stop washing every day.

No 'poo month 4: Two days since my last wash

Week 14: I’m pretty sure I spend more time (and thus, use more water) per shower than I did before going no ‘poo. There’s a lot of rinsing involved with this method of hair washing, and I’ve been thinking about my water usage a lot this week. I think that overall, I’m still saving water because I’m showering less frequently than before (not every day, for sure) and most of my showers do not involve hair washing, so they’re shorter.

Week 16: A note on shedding: I’m finding that my hair sheds a lot more now, particularly in the shower. I’m not sure if I’m noticing it more because my hair is getting longer, or if it’s because with the less frequent washings and less brushing, there aren’t as many opportunities for my hair to shed. It’s getting to the point where it’s getting a little alarming to me, like when my hair started to fall out after pregnancy.

Week 18: I’m starting to be a little frustrated with this “transitional period” concept. After over four months of washing my hair every 3-4 days with no ‘poo (often going 4 days even though I wanted to wash on day 3) my hair doesn’t seem to be getting any less oily than it did in week 4. It also doesn’t get oily any slower, which is the most frustrating part.

Week 20: It’s been five full months since I started this no ‘poo experiment, and I’ve decided to wash my hair with soap today. I’m going to use Dr. Bronner’s unscented liquid castile soap (the same stuff I use to wash my body) and still do the ACV rinse afterwards. I feel like I gave this experiment a good go, but I’d like my hair to feel more clean more of the time.

Final reflections (present day; about 8 weeks post-no ‘poo): I’m glad I did the no ‘poo experiment. Before beginning, I washed my hair every day, and it was wet and tangled a lot of the time. Now I can comfortably wash it every other day and it doesn’t feel oily at all on the off days. I use a mild soap like Dr. Bronner’s or an unscented shampoo with ingredients I can pronounce. I still use the ACV rinse for conditioner a couple of times per week, and it really keeps my hair feeling soft and manageable.

My hair washing method has changed since doing no ‘poo, too. I no longer soap up my entire head (and all my hair) but rather I focus the shampoo on my scalp and just scrub the parts that feel oily. Because of this I’m using less shampoo than I normally would with the amount of hair I have, and it takes less time to wash and rinse than it did before. After washing I put conditioner (or ACV) in my hair and put it up with a clip to soak while I’m washing the rest of my body. After a final rinse, I’m ready to go!

There were things I loved about no ‘poo and things I didn’t, and ultimately the things that bothered me won out this time. I may give no ‘poo another go someday down the road, but for now I’m happy with my current haircare routine.

So what do you think? Would you ever give up traditional shampoo and/or conditioner? Have you tried no ‘poo for a short while or are you a total no ‘poo convert? I’d love to hear about your experiences!

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Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

  • Make your own moisturizer! — Megan at boho mama whips up a winter skin-friendly moisturizer.
  • Cold Water Only — Brittany at The Pistachio Project talks about how you do not need hot water to wash laundry.
  • Family Cloth… Really?? — After lots of forethought and consideration, Momma Jorje finally decides to take the plunge with family cloth.
  • Reduce, Reuse, Recycle : 5-5-5 Things A Day — Luschka from Diary of a First Child writes about decluttering her home in an attempt to create a gentler living space. She takes on a new project where she sets a goal of reducing, reusing and recycling every day.
  • Pros and cons of family cloth — Lauren at Hobo Mama would love to continue replacing paper products with family cloth … if she could only get over how damp she feels.
  • Craftily Parenting — Kellie at Our Mindful Life finds that crafting makes her a better parent.
  • Changes — Laura at Pug in the Kitchen couldn’t choose just one area to experiment with, so she wrote a long post about all the fun changes initiated in her life!
  • Life without Internet: Not all it’s Cracked up to Be — Adrienne at Mommying My Way tries to go a week without the Internet, only to realize a healthy dose of Internet usage really helps keep this stay-at-home mom connected.
  • My Progression to Raw Milk — Kerry at City Kids Homeschooling shares her natural parenting progression all the way to trying raw milk.
  • mama’s new little friend. — Sarah at Bitty Bird tries a menstrual cup to “green her period,” and is pleasantly surprised when she falls in love with the product!
  • Before you throw it out, try homemade laundry soap! — Jennifer at Practical OH Mommy shows visual proof that homemade laundry soap is cheaper, easier, and works better than the store-bought chemicals!
  • Oil, Oil, No Toil, No Trouble — K from Very Simple Secret talks about her foray into the oil-cleansing method.
  • I Need a Hobby — Amanda at Let’s Take the Metro couldn’t decide which experiment to run, so she did them all.
  • 7 days of macrobiotics for a balanced family — The Stones make a [successful] attempt to release the “holiday junking” with 7 days of macrobiotic meals to balance their bodies and souls. Elisabeth at Manic Mrs. Stone includes an explanation of macrobiotics.
  • Chemical Free Beauty Challenge — Jenn at Monkey Butt Junction turned to natural alternatives for her daily beauty and cleaning routine, with great results.
  • Greening my Armpits!? My Green Resolution — Shannon at The Artful Mama talks about how she decided to give up her traditional antiperspirant and make the switch over to crystal deodorants and definitely isn’t looking back!
  • Going Raw (for a while) — Jenny at Chronicles of a Nursing Mom shares her family’s experience with raw food.
  • Do we get to eat gluten today? — Sheila at A Gift Universe has been trying to figure out if her son does better with or without gluten in his diet … but it’s really hard to tell for sure.
  • Hippies Can Smell and Look Fabulous Too! — Arpita of Up, Down And Natural details her experience of going shampoo-free and overhauling her cosmetics to find the balance between feeling beautifully fabulous and honoring her inner hippie.
  • Our cupboards are full…but there’s nothing to eat — Lucy at Dreaming Aloud takes on the challenge of chomping through the contents of her storecupboard rather than going shopping — but there’s something that she just can’t bring herself to do …
  • Elimination Experiment 3.0MudpieMama recounts the messy adventures of her baby daughter trying to be diaper free.
  • Family Cloth Trial — Amyables at Toddler in Tow talks about making and using family cloth wipes in the bathroom for the first time.
  • Taking a Hiatus — Amy at Peace 4 Parents shares how her experience of much less internet interaction affected her family and how it will change her approach in the future.
  • Trying Out the Menstrual Cup — Lindsey at an unschooling adventure ditches the tampons and gives menstrual cups a try.
  • Managing Food Waste in Our Home — Tired of the holiday waste, Robbie at Going Green Mama takes a weeklong focus on reducing food waste in her home, and learns some lessons that can take her through the new year.
  • Going Offline, Cloth Tissues, and Simplicity — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama muses over her time away from blogging and social networking. In addition, she shares her newfound love of cloth tissues and simplicity.

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Amy, Lead Editor and Author of Anktangle

Amy is a work from home Momma to a fabulous son, Daniel. Amy writes about the things she holds close to her heart: family, delicious food, and her adventures in natural parenting. She is passionate about natural childbirth, breastfeeding, gentle, intuitive parenting, and respecting all people, no matter how small. Amy writes about all of it at Anktangle.

26 Responses to Adventures in Alternative Haircare: No ‘Poo

  1. Heather Swartz

    I think no ‘poo sounds like it would be interesting to try. My biggest thing is that you said it burns a lot. I have issues when the water here gets in my eyes, much less soap. So that would probably be a big thing with me.

    Also a note on hair shedding. I have noticed that if I don’t wash my hair everyday when I do my hair comes up in what to me seems like clumps. I would say that its probably from not washing daily, my hair that is. When I do go for periods of time washing my hair daily (which is not too often because it really dries out my hair a lot) I still shed hair but in smaller amounts.

    • Amy @ Anktangle  

      If you keep your head tipped back while you’re using the various no ‘poo ingredients, it shouldn’t be a problem. But it’s always a risk, unfortunately.

      It sounds like we have similar experiences with shedding. It seems alarming to me, but I’m pretty sure it’s normal. …I’m not bald yet, anyway!

  2. Dionna  

    I’m also thinking about using a castile soap after I finish my current shampoo/conditioner. Do you think I’ll go through a transitional period with that?

  3. Brittany @ The Pistachio Project  

    I love no ‘poo. I’ve been no ‘pooing for over 2 years now and it’s great. I did want to mention that with your no ‘pooing (every 3-4 days) it takes a lot longer to get out of detox. It took me maybe a year before I could go 5 days with decent looking hair. But to me, it’s better then the quick but obvious detox (aka no ‘pooing only every 6-7 days but detox is over faster)

    I’ve never noticed my hair shedding from no ‘poo except for when I skipped my vitamins. (I believe hair shedding is related to Vit. B???)

    • Amy @ Anktangle

      For me, it got to the point where I didn’t want to look or feel oily anymore. I guess it wasn’t worth it to me to feel that way for a year (or more) before starting to look nice/clean again. I’ll look into the B vitamin thing; thanks for the suggestion!

  4. Patti @ Jazzy Mama

    I went no’poo for nearly the entirety of 2011, caving in to real shampoo just before Christmas. Like you, I never really got past the feeling that my hair was always a little greasy and my scalp was also always a little itchy. Maybe I never got the right ratios of BS and ACV. Anyway, after just two washes with shampoo I decided to get highlights at a salon and it made my hair into a total frizzball! I had NEVER had such dry hair in my life. I immediately went back to using BS and now I love my hair again. Kinda strange, no? So I really don’t have any advice or input, only a little story. Joy to you (and your hair), Patti

  5. Megan @ boho mama  

    I had the same experience of terrible shedding when I no-poo’d last year. It would come out in handfuls! My hair is naturally fine, so it freaked me out. I went back to shampoo, but like you, I use a LOT less and can go a few days longer between. But using less means I can afford to buy better quality/organic shampoo without all the junk! Yay!

  6. Christine @ African Babies Don't Cry  

    I have gone no’poo as a new years resolution and am pleasantly surprised at the condition my hair is in only 2 weeks later. I wasnt washing my hair every day though, and perhaps this has helped. My hair feels clean most of the time whilst using BS and ACV, I hope to continue so that my hair will stop being so dry and damaged. Perhaps it works better for dry hair?

    • Amy @ Anktangle

      I definitely think it works much better (or at least the transitional phase isn’t as dramatic) for people with dry hair, since there doesn’t seem to be so much oil build-up in-between washes.

  7. Lauren  

    So glad you wrote this so honestly! I’ve been doing no-poo since October (since you visited, actually!), and you touched on the two things bothering me most about it: (a) my hair feeling greasier/dirtier than usual and (b) how much water I use now for the shower.

    I’m tweaking things a bit and giving it a little more time, but I suspect I’ll eventually go back to my organic-conditioner-washing (that was working just fine before, after all).

    • Amy @ Anktangle

      Thank you, Lauren! Because of your experiences with it, I switched to co-washing for a month after I quit no ‘poo. I definitely liked it better than no ‘poo, but still not quite as much as regular washing. I suspect that someday (when my hair isn’t so long) I’ll try all of these things again since they’ll be easier to do with less hair. Maybe my results will be totally different–who knows!

  8. Luschka  

    I’m really interested in how this would work for someone with dandruff. I only have flaky scalp in the UK – something about the water being drier and having more stuff added to it. But if I don’t use a dandruff conditioner, I get really itchy, dry and flaky scalp. I’m wondering if the ACV would do anything for that?

    • Amy @ Anktangle

      I hear that no ‘poo works great for people with dry hair, so perhaps it would be the same for dandruff? Maybe you could try conditioner-only washing, with your dandruff conditioner, and see how that goes!

  9. Syenna

    This was a really interesting post… my boys (4 year olds) sometimes have quite dry hair, although I rarely use any products on it. Do you think maybe just a vinegar rinse would help?

  10. April

    I have been no ‘poo for 2 1/2 years. I’ve never looked back, except for when I was away from home and had nothing but shampoo around.
    I have had struggles with itchy scalp too. I found out recently that you can infuse your ACV with essential oils. Tea Tree oil is good for your scalp, and made mine feel very nice!
    For dry hair, I use coconut oil, it melts in your hands, and then rub it on the hair, and brush through. Add lavendar oil to make it smell special. (;

  11. Deb @ Living Montessori Now  

    Fascinating experiment, Amy! I haven’t tried going no ‘poo, but I’ve had long hair for so many years that I’ve trained my hair to be washed every 3 or 4 days (and I only shampoo the part near my scalp). No ‘poo would definitely be an interesting experiment to try! :)

  12. Momma Jorje

    I’d be willing to bet that the increased shedding is just from brushing / washing less often. If you figure you lose SOME hair every time you do those things…

    I only wash my hair about once per week. I use regular ol’ shampoo for now, though I keep considering these “no poo” recipes. My hair does get a little greasy at times. I also shed a lot if I haven’t brushed or washed recently.

  13. mrsculpepper  

    I went no poo for several months a few years ago. For me the main reason was to quit polluting the water supply. I used to think my hair was oily but as the length between washings grew I realized it really wasn’t. I currently only wash every 3-4 days. I ended up going back to shampoo and conditioner mainly for the convinience factor (no poo does take longer in the shower what with mixing a paste and 2 rinses) but this month’s carnival has got me thinking it might be time to recommit.

  14. Sheila  

    I don’t do no ‘poo for myself — I’m addicted to Pantene, though I’ve got it down to once a week — but I do for my toddler. No vinegar or baking soda — just water. Every once in awhile, when he’s rubbed food in his hair, I use a bit of baby shampoo and the results are AWFUL! Dry, sticking straight up, coarse hair. Whereas without any products, it’s soft, smooth, and smells nice. I don’t know when I might start using things on his hair, but for now it really seems he doesn’t need a thing!

  15. katie  

    we used dr. bronners baby mild for “poo” and really like it

  16. Erynne M.  

    I did no ‘poo for about six months, and it wasn’t awful… I found that if I did a cool water rinse with a bit of essential oil in it at the end of my showers, it really did keep my hair from smelling ‘vinegary.’

    Unfortunately, now that I do a lot of 1940s vintage styling, I don’t really want to do no ‘poo. My hair was shorter when I did no ‘poo… and now that it’s past my shoulders, I just don’t feel confident doing it! :(

  17. Kelley

    I just stumbled upon the no ‘poo movementm, and am so excited to give it a try. I am 72 hours without regular shampoo, and just did my first no ‘poo this morning. Today, at least, my hair is pretty great!

  18. Pandra

    I’ve been reading about no-poo for a while but I just couldn’t stand the thought of not washing my hair every day. I have used Aubrey Organics for decades and I figured I was okay. This past summer my hair started shedding like it never had before and I remembered reading a blog post about going no-poo and hair loss slowing down. I figured it was worth it to try if it might help the shedding.

    From the very first day, my hair stopped shedding. I got a couple, and I literally mean TWO strands of hair on my hands in the shower, and another couple of strands on my hairbrush. My hair is wavier and shinier than it ever was with Aubrey. It’s only been about a month, and I’m going every other day with the baking soda and ACV.

    I don’t like to do the baking soda in the shower-I mix a spoonful with a little water and scrub my scalp with it. Then I go in the shower and rinse it out, followed with an ACV rinse of one part vinegar to four parts water. I think I’ll go to three days instead of two between washes-my hair looks great with just rinsing it with water. I always thought I had straight hair, but now it’s wavy. I cover the grey with henna. And that’s it-baking soda and vinegar stopped my hair from shedding and made it look great.

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